Sunday, January 10, 2016

Why I Practice Communion

Photo Credit: Kurt Clark
Communion is one of those Christian traditions that most of us Messianics left behind. After all, once you learn that the "Lord's supper" was actually a Passover seder, why hold on to tradition?

That's why I was wary of joining our local church in their practice of weekly communion for a long time. It seemed intellectually dishonest for me to participate in something that I believed had no real foundation. The Lord's Supper was Passover, not some new thing.

I began reconsidering my position when I read an article entitled Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor by Derek Flood. The article challenges its readers to reconsider the way in which we think about atonement, but in the midst of this Derek pulls in the concept of communion:
Communion is not something that we understand with our minds but something we experience with our hearts. While most people could hardly articulate what it means to them to partake of the blood and body of Christ, there is an almost universal recognition of it being a profoundly moving experience. It is a communion that goes beyond words. If you have experienced this deep communion of the Eucharist then you have understood the meaning of sacrifice on a heart level....And the best way to get a hold of this passionate self-sacrificing love is through the language of the heart, through drama and story, through the act of worship in hymns and music, through the sacrament of communion we come in contact with the drama of the radical love of God in a tangible way that engages us on a heart level letting its reality take hold of us, and move and change us.
As a writer, I find myself naturally drawn to this concept of story. Is this not in line with the great Jewish tradition of acting out the Scriptures? Every time we hold a Passover seder, we re-enact the Exodus from Egypt. In Sukkot, we live as the Israelites did through the wilderness. Not much later, our pastor explained it similarly saying that communion is the Word of God in symbols or pictures. Even in modern education we recognize that there are different learning styles, and some people learn best by working with their hands. Consider the mezuzah or tefillin or tziztit--all physical objects that carry deep theological significance.

So, with that I decided to give it a try. Sure, the idea of doing this weekly had no basis in Scripture, but then neither did a lot of our traditions. I want to try to convey the significance of this tradition to me, but to do that I must describe the worship service of our church. For, communion is not something that is just done--it is the climax of a carefully orchestrated liturgy. I'll do my best to describe that experience here, but as Derek Flood mentioned, "it is a communion that goes beyond words" that "most people could hardly articulate."

The service begins as any traditional Jewish liturgy would--with a call to worship declaring the glory of our God. A hymn or a reading emphasizing God's infinite greatness, His mighty redeeming acts, Hid glory present throughout creation. All of it marches in tune with the order of God's law. All of it, except us. As we read from the law of God, we reflect on our own inadequacy, our own brokeness. Who are we to approach the all-consuming fire that is our God? Who are we but dust in the presence of our King? We confess our faults both individually and corporately. Yet, God is merciful and He responds with grace and forgiveness. It is on this foundation that the pastor builds his sermon, exhorting the congregation to walk in the newness of life that Messiah has bought for us. And as he brings that sermon to a close, he reminds us of the One that makes all this possible--the One who bridges that gap and restores us to the Father, despite our broken state. The One who reaches out His hand and invites us to commune with the Father. It is here that we approach and participate in the body and the blood of Messiah. This week as we approached the table we were exhorted not to look down, but look up at the faces around us. We're part of a covenant community (Eph. 4:1-10)--when we partake of the bread, we participate in the body, the people, of Messiah.

So many times I have thought to myself, "Do I really want to go to church today? Why?" Yet, every time I walk out of that church I walk out feeling refreshed. Every time I walk out reminded of the immeasurable grace of God.


"But it was a Passover seder!?!" True. But, does this mean we confine the Passover and all its significance to one day of the year? As I was reading the commentary in my Siddur on day, I came across an interesting note. On the third section after the Shema (Numbers 15:37-41), the commentators noted that this section was included to fulfill the command to "remember the Exodus from Egypt every day of our lives" (see jewfaq). Now, I've yet to come across this command in the Torah, but it is interesting to note how many times God says "I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt." Even the Sabbath, in Deuteronomy's rendition of the ten commandments, is predicated on the Exodus. Might we consider letting the Messianic significance of the Passover and the Lord's supper spill over into our weekly lives? Might we consider making Messiah and His work on the cross the centerpiece of our day to day living (and not just something we remember once a year)?

But, here I must digress. My intent was not to lay upon you another command or convince you that the Bible says we should have weekly communion--it does not. But, the absence of a direct command does not undercut the deep significance this practice has had in my life in helping me to remember and reflect on the Gospel. That is why I practice communion.

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